Press Praise Pours in for Duchess of Malfi!

The full spread of the incredibly talented cast of Duchess of Malfi. From left to right, Rafael Untalan,* Drew Kopas,* Harlan Work,* Gwen Grastorf, Lindsey Synder, Jonathan Lee Taylor,* Brit Herring,* and Matthew Pauli.

The full spread of the incredibly talented cast of Duchess of Malfi. From left to right, Rafael Untalan,* Drew Kopas,* Harlan Work,* Gwen Grastorf, Lindsey Synder, Jonathan Lee Taylor,* Brit Herring,* and Matthew Pauli.


“Reisman keeps Webster’s often ghoulish plot moving at the speed of an executioner’s axe.” (Washington Post)

The Press has seen Duchess of Malfi and they are in love with the play! Just check out some out the amazing reviews we have been getting from a huge range of outlets:


The ensemble’s nimble, balanced cast brings the story of the Duchess, played with clarity and passion by Lindsey D. Snyder, to the fore.



Lindsey Snyder: "Badass" (Washington City Paper)

Lindsey Snyder: “Badass” (Washington City Paper)



The direction was skilled and precise as one would expect from Paul Reisman. So there is little surprise in the fact that working in tandem with this fabulous cast they crafted a phenomenal show.



Matthew Pauli plays the Cardinal with "sinister smuttiness" (Broadway World)

Matthew Pauli plays the Cardinal with “sinister smuttiness” (Broadway World)



Snyder, Herring, Pauli, and Untalan are as good in this as any actors you’re likely to see at Fringe

You can get tickets RIGHT HERE for DUCHESS OF MALFI, but you have to hurry because we are selling out fast!

The TRUE and SHOCKING Tale of Giovanna D’Aragona, the Duchess of Malfi

Lindsey's face is saying "Cool story, bro"

Lindsey Snyder (seated) as the Duchess of Malfi being patronized by Brit Herring (center) as the Duchess’ brother Duke Ferdinand, while Matthew Pauli (right) looking on as the Cardinal, the Duchess other brother. Photo courtesy Paul Reisman, who puts the capital D in Director.

Welcome to the most kick-ass Duchess of Malfi blog you will read today! I’m Alan Katz, your faithful dramaturg and blogger. We Happy Few are deep in tech rehearsal right now at the Mead Theatre Lab, creating some technical theater magic that will wow you when you come see the show. While they are busy making magic in the present day, I’m going to take you back in time, way back, in fact, to the early 16th century in southern Italy. Here we’ll not only find courts full of plots and panderers, but also our eponymous Duchess, Giovanna d’Aragona, whose tragic life is the subject of John Webster’s play.

Apparently, Ayrton thought that the Duchess had an alternate career in the circus as "The Incredible Long-Armed Woman"

Since no contemporary portrait exists of our particular Giovanna d’Aragona, here is Michael Ayrton’s interpretation of the Duchess circa 1945. Photo courtesy of

Giovanna d’Aragona’s life was tragic, with death following her even from early in her life. Her father, Enrico d’Aragona Marquis of Gerace, was poisoned by mushrooms in 1478 when she was just a year old. She became the Duchess of Malfi through marriage, having wedded late (for her time) at the age of twenty. Her husband died shortly thereafter, widowing her before the age of 30 and giving her sole claim to rule the Duchy of Amalfi. John Webster’s play picks up a while after her husband’s death, with the Duchess ruling the roost.

Up in the club, you just croaked up/ I'm doing my own little thing/You decided to dip, but now you wanna trip/Cause my jealous brothers noticed me

Here is Lindsey Snyder, our Duchess of Malfi, blinging out like the badass ruler she is and staying strong despite her husband’s early demise. Photo Courtesy of Gwen Grastorf, who rocks

Here is where our Duchess starts to get into trouble. With the culture of 16th century Italy being as sexist as it was, even a woman of royal blood who was ruling a Duchy had to have a man taking care of business affairs for her. For the Duchess, this man was Antonio Beccadelli Bologna. Now, Antonio was the major domo to the Duchess (sometimes called a butler), so he handled the accounting of her possessions and lands, a chief steward to the household. That isn’t to say that Antonio was just a common peasant. His grandfather was a celebrated Humanist and had been granted citizenship and nobility in the Kingdom of Naples, so Antonio was more of a small-time, up-jumped aristocrat. Despite that rank, Antonio and the Duchess got themselves into trouble when they fell in love. The Duchess was of royal blood (her grandfather was the King of Naples) and loving a mid-status guy like Antonio was frowned upon, especially by her brother Luigi (a Cardinal and the chief power-broker in her family).

He'll live on, and he'll be strong, cause it ain't his cross to bear.

Here is Matthew Pauli as the Cardinal, looking super dark and mysterious with his ominous cross necklace. Photo courtesy of Paul Reisman, who can really capture Noir, even without the use of fedoras.


SPOILER ALERT! From here to the end of this blog post there are potential SPOILERS! While John Webster didn’t exactly follow the true history of the real Duchess of Malfi, he did incorporate major elements of the history into his play. If you continue reading, you do so at the risk of SPOILING some of the plot twists in the play. If you don’t care about spoilers or have already read the Wikipedia article for the Duchess of Malfi, read on, brave soul. **


The fact that the Duchess and Antonio were in love wasn’t very culturally acceptable, but not uncommon. There are all sorts of examples of royals having affairs with lower nobility at this time in Italy. But, and this is a big but, one thing that was NOT done was a royal marrying someone of a lower class, even a lower noble class. So what do the Duchess and Antonio do? Get married, of course. They were married in a secret ceremony, too, so they definitely knew that they were breaking taboos. Then, the took another step and had children together, which is a pretty hard thing to hide. They wound up not being able to hide it. Cardinal Luigi found out, so the Duchess and Antonio picked up their children and ran. The Cardinal, being a powerful man with connections throughout Italy, found their hiding spot in Ancona, and got them exiled.

All along the watchtower, Duchess kept the view. Where both her brothers came and went, and executioners, too.

The Torre Dello Ziro, one of the possible resting places of the Duchess of Malfi and her children. Part of its grounds have been converted into a bed and breakfast. Because, you know, historical child murder is what you really want in a B&B. Photo courtesy of

Here’s where things get interesting. Antonio escapes to Milan, but the Duchess and her children don’t. They disappear. Tradition holds that the Duchess and her children were either taken back to her palace at Amalfi or to the Torre Dello Ziro on the Amalfi coast. All of the sources agree, however, that none of them were ever seen again. The Cardinal was thought to be the force behind her murder. Soon after, Antonio was spotted going to church in Milan, and, right after he left, he was murdered in the street by a man named Bosola, who was thought to be an agent of the Cardinal. Ironically, after being the prime suspect in the murders of two adults and three children, Cardinal Luigi headed up a Papal Commission investigating secret intrigues. I guess it takes an evil, secretive conspirator to know an evil, secretive conspirator.

Over the next couple of posts, we’ll be featuring some meet-the-cast videos, and a look at the Early Modern adaptation, plus the original production of Duchess of Malfi to see how it influenced the play you are going to go see, starting July 13th!

Get your tickets for Duchess of Malfi now!

A New We Happy Few Show is Coming!

And we’re back! We Happy Few is returning from a long hiatus after our very successful run of Romeo and Juliet last year, and We’ve got a tempting, but rarely produced, masterpiece on the boards for Capital Fringe this summer. As you may remember, when Hannah Todd and Raven Bonniwell founded We Happy Few, they created a company dedicated to producing small-cast, stripped down, ensemble versions of classic plays. Over the past 3 years, We have done exactly that, putting on small cast versions of The Tempest, Hamlet and, Romeo and Juliet. What do all of those plays have in common? They’re all written by William Shakespeare! But our mission is bigger than just Shakespeare, We are committed to perform classic plays in our special style. So we are branching out this summer by performing the rarely-produced, but razor-sharp, Duchess of Malfi by John Webster.

Duchess of Malfi Title PageThe original title page for the quarto of Duchess of Malfi. Are there awesome gems of knowledge hidden in this image? You bet your sweet bippy there are. And you can find out what they are in the next blog post! (Photo courtesy of the University of Oxford)

Haven’t heard of the Duchess? Don’t worry. If you like the intrigue of Shakespeare’s Histories or the madness and murder of his Tragedies, you are going to love The Duchess of Malfi. Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? It gets awesomer. We have all kinds of special treats planned for our audiences. From a pre-show talk on July 16th to a post-show discussion with some of the creative team on July 19th, there are all kinds of ways for you to get closer to this play. Even better, you can come back to this blog and check out cool features where you can learn about the play, meet the cast and creative team, and get sneak peeks into rehearsal. Speaking of sneak peeks into rehearsal…

Alan, Paul, and KiernanAlan Katz (left), Dramaturg and Incredibly Handsome Man, Paul Reisman (middle), Director and Even Handsomer Man, and Kiernan McGowan (right) , Producer and Handsomest Man of Them All (Photo courtesy of the wonderful Gwen Grastorf)

I will be one of your hosts for these awesome goodies. That’s me on the left, during one of the first rehearsals for Duchess, doing some dramaturgical “table work” with the director and actors. Table work comes in the first few rehearsals of the production, where the cast and creative team literally sit around a table to read the script and the director explains his vision while initial questions about the script are answered. As the dramaturg, table work is important for my job, since my job is to bring a historical perspective to the production and to help make the play more accessible to you, our audience. Join me for some upcoming blog posts where you can learn about the true story of the Duchess of Malfi, a story rife with dangerous secrets, illicit affairs, intrigue, madness, and murder where Big Brother lurks around every corner in this disturbingly modern world.

Tickets are on sale now! We open on July 13th at Flashpoint DC and run through July 23rd! Buy your tickets now!


Everything Old is New Again: Rediscovering ROMEO AND JULIET

For this year’s Capital Fringe Festival, We Happy Few tackled an almost 400 year old play by William Shakespeare. ROMEO AND JULIET is frequently taught, frequently read, and frequently staged. So why did we chose to take on this classic? First, we injected a new artistic concept (see our older posts for more on this). And of course, we love to take on a challenge. But we also know that revisiting this play will open up new ideas for us and bring to light some connections that we had never made before. Using this new perspective, we hope that our audience also comes away from the show feeling that it isn’t just the “same old story” but that ROMEO AND JULIET now has new meaning to them.

There’s a reason that ROMEO AND JULIET is so popular. It’s a damn good play, and arguably one of Shakespeare’s best. In our last cast interview video of this series, the actors in our production discuss the things that surprised them during the process of staging ROMEO AND JULIET. Enjoy!


Our very last performance of ROMEO AND JULIET is on stage this evening at Source. Be sure to get a ticket! Don’t miss a wonderful opportunity to revisit this classic tragedy with us.

“Boys Will Be Boys”

We Happy Few’s ROMEO AND JULIET has been well received by audiences and critics after 5 performances. Just 4 shows remain, so get a ticket now! The masculine nature of our rendition of the play has been praised by reviewers.

Washington City Paper says, “The testosterone overload is by design. We Happy Few wants to emphasize the way that violent masculinity leads to the bloodbath at the end of this tragic tale…. it actually enhances the text.”

DC Theatre Scene says of the choice to cast male actors in all female roles besides Juliet’s, “The effect of this casting decision is, in some scenes, hilarious and others, heartbreaking… Juliet’s allies are a part of the society keeping her from her goals, which adds an entire new layer to the timeless story.”

In our next video with the cast of ROMEO AND JULIET, the actors discuss the artistic vision for the show, and how well the concept works within the male-dominated society Verona’s feuding families have created.


As the Washington Post says, “Boys will be boys- and therein lies Verona’s misfortune.” And that’s exactly what we’re going for.

PS. Be sure to read the other stellar review for ROMEO AND JULIET from DC Metro Theater Arts and be sure to see this tragic tale of “star-crossed lovers” as you’ve never seen it before.

But Soft, What Quote From Yonder Shakespeare Play?

ROMEO AND JULIET is one of the most well-known, most commonly read, and most often quoted plays in the English language (and probably in other languages, too). We asked the cast of our ROMEO AND JULIET, on stage as a part of this summer’s Capital Fringe Festival, to talk about their favorite lines from Shakespeare’s masterpiece. The result is a combination of old favorites that continue to be timeless after almost 400 years, as well as other not-so-obvious choices that have found new meaning with our actors during the life of this production.


What is YOUR favorite quote from ROMEO AND JULIET? Let us know! Make a comment below, tweet it to @WeHappyFewDC, or post it on our facebook page.

Capulets vs. Montagues

We Happy Few’s ROMEO AND JULIET opened last night! With the momentum gained from completing the first show, we’ll keep giving great performances so be sure to get a ticket! There are 8 shows remaining in our 2nd annual appearance at the Capital Fringe Festival.

In celebration of starting performances, we present to you another glimpse at the inner workings of the show. This time, the cast talks about the feud between the Capulet and Montague families, including some characters’ views on the feud and even our guess at how the feud began in the first place. Enjoy!